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Social Scaffolding – Bath Spa University

Bath Spa Graduates support local communities with Social Scaffolding

Tuesday, 10 October, 2023

Bath Spa arts graduates Lou Baker, Alyson Minkley and Juliet Duckworth have joined forces to make art more accessible to communities.  

Through their art collective, Social Scaffolding, Lou, Alyson and Juliet aim to engage audiences with their interactive and immersive art installations, which they set up as ‘pop-up’ exhibitions in vacant high street shops around the South West. 

The three artists are all members of Bath Spa University’s graduate residency programme Emerge. After successful pilot exhibitions in an empty shop in Taunton and at Bath Spa’s Sion Hill campus, they were awarded a National Lottery Project grant of £64,000 by Arts Council England, enabling them to take Social Scaffolding on the road. 

A group shot of the artists sat at a table and smiling

Alyson said exhibiting in empty shops in busy town centres attracts passers-by, encouraging those who wouldn’t normally visit an art gallery to experience and engage with art. She explained further:  

“For us, as artists, the connection with our audience is the most important aspect of our touring exhibition. The co-creation and involvement of our visitors allows for personal and meaningful conversation in a friendly, relaxed and welcoming environment.” 

A unique aspect of the Social Scaffolding experience is that instead of being told not to touch the artworks, visitors are actively encouraged to touch and to add to the installations in various ways. The hands-on nature and the different venues mean that no two exhibitions are the same. 

Talking about her installation, Juliet said:   

“I enjoy installing my artwork, Urban Rookery, in every different venue and seeing how visitors from each town add to, alter and co-create the human-sized nest. Each time the results are different with an individual identity.”  

Lou added:   

"I’ve loved having the opportunity to install my netting dens in each setting, responding to each venue uniquely. It has been wonderful to see how each space has been transformed as visitors add to the Social knitwork."  

Reflecting on the tour so far, Juliet said:  

"Being part of Social Scaffolding has been such an enriching and enjoyable experience. I have learned so much, had a lot of fun and really developed my confidence, knowledge and practice. I am so proud of all we, as a collective, have achieved – how far we have travelled, how many people we have interacted with and how we have adapted and grown along the way."

The project has allowed Alyson, Lou and Juliet to give back to the Bath Spa community as well. So far, they have employed two undergraduate and three graduate interns – supported by Bath Spa’s Careers and Employability team – and several freelance creatives from Emerge, who help with access, web design, videography and tech support. Others have gained useful experience as volunteers.  

Alyson said:

“We believe in building our local networks and supporting emerging creatives at the critical startup point of their careers, even if we’re just a step ahead!" 

Lou added:  

“We’ve been supported by the Emerge team and other community members throughout, from offering advice with our application for Arts Council funding to providing studio and storage space – and lots of encouragement!"  

For Lou, the project has also led to a prestigious fellowship with British installation artist Luke Jerram. Talking about the tour has developed her practice, she said:  

"Without the Social Scaffolding exhibition tour I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to test my ideas and develop Social knitwork, the basis of my proposal for research during the Dreamtime Fellowship." 

So far, Social Scaffolding has taken their exhibit to Shepton Mallet, Weston-super-Mare, Gloucester and Bristol. The group have recently opened their pop-up venue in the former M&Co shop in Trowbridge and the tour will move to Swindon in November. The group hope to continue the project beyond their current tour and are raising funds to help supplement a future bid to take Social Scaffolding to other venues. 

Talking about how the tour has been received, Alyson said:  

"We’re delighted to have engaged with over 4,000 visitors across the region so far. Many have told their friends or family about Social Scaffolding and have come back for second or third visits. It is wonderful to receive comments like, 'This is like Tate Modern in our local community.'" 

Juliet added:   

"I would love Social Scaffolding to continue delivering immersive interactions to community groups and individuals who wouldn't usually seek out contemporary art. It feels like such a meaningful and important thing to offer and I enjoy being part of that." 

You can visit Social Scaffolding at the former M&Co shop in Trowbridge from 12 noon to 5:00pm on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays until 14 October.    

Follow them on Instagram or visit their website for further details.

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